17 November 2018
Kathy Chen alienated many mainland users ot Twitter by expressing her eagerness to work with Chinese state media. Photo: internet
Kathy Chen alienated many mainland users ot Twitter by expressing her eagerness to work with Chinese state media. Photo: internet

New Twitter China chief raises eyebrows with overtures to govt

Kathy Chen, named last week as Twitter Inc.’s new top executive for China, is ruffling feathers on the mainland with her eagerness to collaborate with organs of the ruling Communist Party.

Chen, Twitter’s first managing director for Greater China, is a software engineer who worked for the People’s Liberation Army before moving into the private sector, where she was employed by a cybersecurity firm and then at Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc.

She mentioned in her first tweets that she was looking forward to working with state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) and the official Xinhua news agency.

A swift response followed, Bloomberg reported.

“It’s not a place for CCP propaganda, go away,” one user tweeted, while another said: “Stop deals with party mouthpieces local Chinese can’t easily access #censorship #hypocrisy.”

Even though Twitter is blocked in mainland China, there are users who find ways to bypass controls and participate in the lively debates that take place on the social media platform.

“She may appear more empathetic to the Chinese government,” Cheung Siu-wai, who teaches journalism and communications at Hong Kong Baptist University, was quoted as saying.

At the same time, he said such efforts probably won’t do much to relax the government’s ban on Twitter.

“We don’t think that’s a way to make any headway into the Chinese market,” Cheung said.

Twitter said Chen’s role will be to get the company’s “enterprise offerings — such as advertising, customer service, data analytics and developer platform — in front of Chinese businesses and startups to help them reach a global audience”.

The San Francisco-based firm also responded to criticisms of Chen’s PLA background.

“In the late 1980s, the Chinese government often directed Chinese university graduates into their first jobs,” the company said in an emailed statement.

“When the Chinese economy further opened up with reform in the early 1990s, Kathy chose to pursue her passion for a technology career by switching to the private sector in 1994.”

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, announced Chen’s appointment on Thursday last week.

On the same day, Chen tweeted to CCTV and Dorsey from her brand new account: “Let’s work together to tell great China story to the world!”

A few hours later, she responded to a congratulatory post from Xinhua: “Thanks and look forward to closer partnerships in the future!”

Even though Twitter is blocked to Chinese citizens, many official state media companies have their own accounts.

Twitter, which has been facing a slowdown in user growth, has been seeking to add products and expand outside the United States.

Weibo Corp., which cooperates with Beijing’s censors, hosts China’s biggest online forum, with more than 236 million monthly active users.

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